Nicola Sturgeon was yesterday facing questions over a £10 billion agreement with two Chinese firms that could lead to major investment in Scottish infrastructure.
The Chinese press reported details of the memorandum of understanding with Chinese investment group SinoFortone and China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group, the largest construction company in the world.
Reports, which quoted the SNP donor and Stagecoach businessman Sir Brian Souter welcoming the arrangement, suggested the cash could be invested in clean energy, transport and affordable housing. Sturgeon’s opponents questioned why such a significant development had not been accompanied by a Scottish Government announcement when the documents were signed on 21 March.
Labour’s James Kelly said: “Why did they sign a secret deal and keep it from the Scottish people, and the Scottish Parliament? What was the involvement of millionaire SNP donor Brian Souter? It would be unacceptable if the SNP signed a deal to build major infrastructure projects in Scotland with Chinese steel rather than British steel at a time of crisis in the British steel industry.”
A SNP spokeswoman said: “The memorandum of understanding is not about steel, it is about exploring investment opportunities in Scotland.”
Luo Renjian, a researcher at the Beijing-headquartered National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said that the agreement could also “pave the way for significant investment in clean energy, transport and affordable housing.”
Luo added: “With high-speed trains traveling at a speed of over 300 kilometres per hour, it certainly will help Scotland change the situation in which its ground commuting systems long been dominated by automobiles.
“And related projects can generate a large number of jobs and construction materials supplying businesses.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon signed the agreement at Bute House on Monday, along with SinoFortone managing director Peter Zhang, China Railway No 3 Engineering Group senior advisor Sir Richard Heygate, and China Consul General Pan Xinchun.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We have been cooperating and engaging with China since 2007 and I further progressed Scotland’s business credentials during my trip last year.
“This Memorandum of Understanding will strengthen our economic links with China in a number of areas.
“We have high hopes for Scotland’s economy and it is in a strong position, but if we can drive further growth by looking beyond our shores and building relationships with firms across the world then we will seek to make that happen.”
Mr Zhang added: “We are delighted to act as a bridge between Chinese infrastructure expertise and finance with Scotland, to provide a real example of the benefits of the Belt and Road Initiative in action.”
Consul General Pan added that the project would benefit Chinese enterprises and the Scottish people.